VisitBritain chairman Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge looks at the challenges ahead
Tourism plays a pivotal role in the British economy. In terms of export revenue, employment and investment, this is a strategically important industry, providing employment in areas where traditional jobs have decreased and redistributing wealth from urban to rural and seaside areas. Our foreign visitors spent £13 billion in the UK last year, making our inbound tourism economy a bigger export earner for Britain than crude oil, vehicles, and food, drink and tobacco.
But just last month, I highlighted the inconsistency and lack of clarity that exists in the distribution of public investment in our industry. This investment is already considerable. In addition to VisitBritain's £48.4 million public funding, England's Regional Development Agencies contribute around £44 million and a further £114 million comes from local authorities. That's over £200 million invested annually through at least four sources, all independent of each other. Co-ordination, both strategically and operationally, appears so often to be virtually non-existent and this enterprising, go ahead industry can often suffer as a result.
We recognise tourism's considerable achievements this month with the launch of VisitBritain's new three-year strategies. In addition to generating significant economic growth and creating employment, the industry has played its part in the success of London's Olympic bid and continues to promote a positive impression of Britain overseas, supporting inward investment and export activities. To help make Britain more competitive internationally, the implementation of common standards for accommodation grading and the development of the EnglandNet platform are boosting productivity, improving the quality of products and services, and increasing the effectiveness of marketing undertaken by SMEs. Tourism also supports the Government's social agenda, providing a valuable stepping-stone into employment for young people with little or no experience or qualifications and is a significant employer of disabled people.
While our visitors' individual experiences will be unique, they share a common ‘consumer journey' in which they look, book, travel, stay, tell and keep in touch. By providing services throughout this journey, we can convert consumer ‘interest' into ‘action'. VisitBritain's strategies set out the priorities for customer, brand, product and channel that are critical to the future success of Britain's visitor economy:
We will focus on those markets and customer segments with the greatest potential for growth and increase investment in eleven new and developing markets. We will build the number of customers on our databases and achieve a greater understanding of their needs.
We will further engage the industry to strengthen the delivery of the Britain and England brands, while cross-partnerships will better reflect the values VisitBritain brings to the wider consumer proposition: objectivity, trust, convenience and encyclopaedic knowledge.
The internet will continue to be one of the most cost-effective and efficient channels available to us. We will further develop our family of websites to include e-commerce elements and deliver a rolling programme of customer communications. England's network of over 500 Tourist Information Centres will become primary communications and distribution points.
If we are to continue to grow the value of the visitor economy towards £100 billion by 2010, the industry must be united in its commitment to developing solutions to the challenges that today's tourism environment presents.